If You Want My Advice…

Overcoming any natural reluctance is morally principled. It demonstrates discipline and admirable, self-sacrificing strength of character to prioritise an idea over one’s immediate feelings and impulses. But overcoming a reluctance to hurt and upset others, a core human value, is an error. It is unkind and it will not lead to deep-rooted and long-term change for the better. For that we need inclusion and persuasion.

Cold, theoretical dogmatism denies the personal, and the personal is also part of a principled Humanist stance. It is acknowledging the individual worth of your opponent: an ethical conclusion. Morality is complicated. 

Constantly pursuing conflict is psychologically damaging for the activists themselves. It is distressing and exhausting. It wears them down, drives away their friends; it leaves them traumatised and lonely. When Otegha Uwagba says, “I am determined not to prioritise white comfort over truth” (see my previous posts), She is really deciding to sacrifice her owncomfort in the service of the truth – an admirable commitment. But…

She admits it affects her negatively: “My muscles ache constantly…I become aware of my heart beating unusually hard in my chest… I can feel myself literally vibrating with rage… I can physically feel…the constant thinking and talking about racism draining my health.” (p34) Significantly, though, she lays the blame for this squarely at the feet of other people. Claiming the sociological concept of “weathering” as a racial experience, exclusively, she says, “White people are eroding my body” (p35). 

Weathering is an explanation for the lower health outcomes in marginalised social groups. (Thank you, Wiki!) Reasons for this probably include restricted access to quality healthcare and diet, but also to the sheer stress of meeting daily challenges, one of which, for people of colour, is racism. 

It is a useful way of thinking about statistical differences, but the concept of weathering allows for multiple factors and its results are determined over whole populations and life-spans. Otegha Uwegba’s own life appears to contain some factors that might mitigate the effects of racial tension, such as a high level of education (she’s an Oxford graduate, I think), and a successful professional life. She is unlikely to experience weathering simply caused by white people (or an individual white person) resisting suggestions that they are all complicit in racism. That would validate a hypothetical scenario where Ms Uwagba says, “You’re all racist shits, you white people” and a white person says, “no we’re not!” and then Ms Uwagba retires to bed with a headache and a shortened lifespan. 

This writer’s physical afflictions seem to have begun since the death of George Floyd, when she decided to take up arms and seek out conflict. Perhaps they are the symptoms of stress and tension, a consequence of her own decisions to push herself too hard, to indulge her own distressing anger. 

It’s probably unproductive to make her illness a further complaint against white people, after which she sits back and expects them to do something about it. She should pro-actively tackle it herself: practice mindfulness (I’m serious, here!), pace herself, allow other people to do some of the fighting. Walk away from some arguments and annoying comments, resist the urge to get angry.

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